We interviewed literary agent Eugenie Furniss, who worked for the WME agency for 15 years before setting up Furniss Lawton for the James Grant Group in 2012. She has been shortlisted twice The Bookseller’s Literary Agent of the Year Award. She told us about her favourite aspects of the Frankfurt Book Fair, self-publishing and what’s on her reading list.
What made you want to become an agent in the first place?
I had begun training as a journalist but realised the stories I most wanted to read were those that dug into subjects in more detail and had a longer shelf life. I also missed fiction (though there’s certainly quite a bit of that in the press).
Having just been to the Frankfurt Book Fair, what would you say is the best thing about it and the worst?
The best thing about the fair is the wonderful energy that’s generated by hundreds of thousands of book lovers being in the same place all at once. It reminds me of all the things I love about the publishing community. I think you’d be challenged to find a more tolerant, intellectually curious and straightforward group of people in any other industry. The thing I like least is the airport hanger style conference space – particularly the brutal lighting – not kind to a mature complexion!
The publishing industry seems in a constant state of flux. How has the role of the agent changed over the last few years or is it fundamentally the same as it has always been ?
I think the management part of our role has become more important than ever. Where once the role of an agent was primarily deal focused, I think that guiding authors through the process of publication, lending advice on marketing their work etc, has become more important than ever. We are one of the only agencies with an in-house digital team to offer support in this area. I also think there are more opportunities than ever to have an author’s work adapted across several platforms. We’re very focused on looking for opportunities for our clients in TV, film and with brands and have specialist divisions in all three areas. Finally, I think editors are more demanding than ever about the quality of what they acquire and, as a result, we get more stuck in editorially than I suspect most agents did ten or twenty years ago.
How has the rise of self-publishing and the success of indie writers affected the role of the agent?
It has provided another very viable alternative to looking to secure a traditional publishing deal. Our experiences, to date, in this sphere, have been great so we’re all for it.
Furniss Lawton is part of a large talent management group. How does that impact the role of a literary agent?
It’s essential, these days, to offer a wide range of expertise to authors and we can do that very effectively. The James Grant Group has an extremely open, friendly culture, and it’s great to be able to call on the advice of a myriad of different fields of expertise in the building. They really value teamwork so there’s no sense of us and them.
Tell us what we should be reading this autumn.
The long-awaited fourth novel in Matthew Reilly’s Jack West trilogy, The Four Legendary Kingdoms; Clare Balding’s fantastic first foray into children’s writing, The Racehorse that Couldn’t Gallop; Alexandra Shulman’s diaries of her centenary year, Inside Vogue; and, for bedtime, Allie Esiri’s A Poem for Every Night of the Year.